NBC’s Saturday Night Live is a staple of American television, and it has become weekly required viewing for many households — here are the SNL best seasons, ranked. Though it has seen many ups and downs, SNL has consistently pleased its fans even when the casts have changed over the years. Beginning in 1975, Saturday Night Live is nearly 50 seasons in and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. The sketch comedy show has launched the careers of countless prolific comedians, such as Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, Mike Meyers, and more.
Not only that, but iconic characters have been created on SNL often leading to their own spinoff movies. Wayne’s World and Night at the Roxbury are based on SNL sketches, and the same goes for Coneheads and The Blues Brothers. Due to the fact that it is a sketch show, it is hard to judge episodes and seasons as a whole, but audiences have gravitated towards certain eras of the show and they have garnered high ratings and critical accolades. Whenever the cast, host, and musical guest are of a consistent quality, few shows are as hilarious as SNL. Here are the SNL best seasons ranked.
15 Season 42 (2016 – 2017)
One of the SNL best seasons was season 42, which aired from 2016 to 2017. The time period itself found the United States in a contentious time socially and politically, so SNL did its job by ramping up the funny and providing poignant satire and comedy. While not a main cast member anymore, Alec Baldwin returned to the show to do a particularly comical imitation of President Donald Trump, often dominating the cold opens.
Outside of the season’s more political slant than usual, bringing forth sketches like “Trump People’s Court” and “Trump vs Clinton: Round 2” (seeing the hysterical Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton), one of the SNL best seasons saw some majorly entertaining celebrity guests, such as Tom Hanks, Margot Robbie, and Emily Blunt. “Black Jeopardy,” “Whiskers R’ We with Kristen Wiig,” and the bizarre “Haunted Elevator (featuring David S. Pumpkins)” were some of the biggest stand-out sketches of the season.
14 Season 8 (1982-1983)
The years immediately following the dissolution of the original cast were one of the roughest patches for the show. SNL attempted several format changes which didn’t sit well with audiences, and they were tuning out in droves. Season 8, however, reintroduced many of the show’s original hallmarks, and it was seen as a return to form, making it one of the SNL best seasons.
Though the cast didn’t feature as many household names as before, future stars such as Eddie Murphy and Julia Louise-Dreyfus were strong anchor points. Notable sketches such as “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood” (one of the best SNL sketches of all time) were familiar staples from the previous seasons that fans could latch on to, and Eddie Murphy proved his tremendous star power throughout the season before departing after the following season.
13 Season 4 (1978-1978)
Season 4 came out of the gate hot and started with The Rolling Stones as hosts and musical guests in the same episode. If this isn’t enough to make season 4 one of the SNL best seasons, the cast was unchanged from previous seasons, though it would be the last season of both Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi which would effectively spell the end of the original cast.
Like the previous two seasons, the cast was in rare form and had gotten the format of the show down well enough to deliver consistently. Many of the previous season’s famous sketches returned, and The Blues Brothers performed on several occasions before Aykroyd and Belushi departed to star in the feature film. Season 4 also spawned the iconic SNL line “Jane, you ignorant slut!” During Aykroyd and Jane Curtain’s “Point/Counterpoint” segment on Weekend Update.
12 Season 39 (2013-2014)
On the eve of season 40, SNL undertook one of its largest cast overhauls and nearly every featured player was replaced with a fresh face. Despite the change, audiences responded well to the new cast, and with the addition of legendary hosts such as John Goodman and Tina Fey, the season soared beyond many fans’ expectations and became one of the SNL best seasons.
The season is of consistent quality not only because the writing is strong but because the hosting was top-notch as well. Unlike many other seasons which often featured non-actors in the hosting spot, season 39 featured only hosts who had experience as actors. The series broke its own ground by adding Black female comic Sasheer Zamata, and the seasons features one of its largest casts. However, this ended up working well, providing wider and more dynamic sketches like “4th Grade Talent Show” and “New Wes Anderson Horror Trailer.”
11 Season 18 (1992 – 1993)
Season 18 was a year of transition for SNL, but it seems like some of the SNL best seasons thrive under pressure. Mike Meyers was on leave for the first half of the season whereas Dana Carvey was absent for the second half. This also marks Chris Rock’s last season on the show and David Spade was similarly beginning to pick up steam in Hollywood. Between all of these changes and musical guest Sinead O’Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope on stage, it was clear that season 18 would be ruled by chaos.
However, this chaos is part of what makes SNL so great and iconic. Season 18 saw iconic Chris Farley characters rule the screen, as this marks the first appearance of Matt Foley and his van down by the river. The Gap Girls sketches also made their first showcase in season 18, as did Adam Sandler’s Canteen Boy (something of a precursor to his movie The Waterboy). Really, season 18 saw SNL as the Chris Farley show, as Farley was easily one of the best SNL cast members, and it certainly didn’t disappoint audiences.
10 Season 17 (1991-1992)
The early 1990s was another big transitional period for Saturday Night Live. The ’80s had been largely rough for the show, but it saw a glimmer of hope in the latter half of the decade through the inclusion of memorable cast members. Season 17 saw the promotion of Chris Farley and Chris Rock to main cast status and several future stars were featured players as well, making this one of the SNL best seasons.
Anchored by established talents like Dana Carvey and Mike Myers, season 17 flourished because it was a balance of old and new. With memorable sketches like “Wayne’s World” having been made into a hit film by that point, SNL had more eyes on it than ever before. “The Mr. Belvedere Fanclub” stands out as one of the show’s weirdest yet funniest sketches to date, and this season also introduced Adam Sandler’s “Opera Man,” and “The Chris Farley Show.”
9 Season 33 (2007-2008)
Hampered by the writer’s strike, season 33 of SNL still managed to deliver high quality entertainment week after week and was one of the SNL best seasons. The season was the shortest of the entire run and that allowed the writers to focus and pack each episode with strong content. The cast saw very little turnover which allowed the veterans to work their magic, despite limitations.
The season’s hosts were very strong and featured a few notable alumni such as Tina Fey. Also, the famous “Weekend Update” sketch was helmed by Amy Poehler and Seth Myers who are considered to be some of the best anchors to ever host the sketch. Kristen Wiig was also a huge highlight of the season, coming up with four new characters and generally making the series a barrel of laughs from start to finish every time she got on stage.
8 Season 38 (2012 – 2013)
One of the SNL best seasons was yet another time of cast transition for the show, as this marked the final year for Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, and Fred Armisen. However, this saw newcomers Jay Pharaoh and Cecily Strong start to hit their marks in a big way. Hader decided to grace the screen with his iconic Weekend Update character Stefon in one of the best sketches of the season “Stefon’s Halloween Tips.”
Not only that, but Pharaoh was spot on with his memorable Barack Obama impression and Cecily Strong showed off her comedic skills with “Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With At A Party.” The best celebrity guests of the season included Ben Affleck, Melissa McCarthy, and Seth Macfarlane. Between “Puppet Class” and Stefon, Bill Hader more than earned his Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
7 Season 37 (2011-2012)
SNL usually sees an uptick in quality around election years, and season 37 was no exception, making it one of the SNL best seasons. With a lot of political material to work with, the season rolled on strong and was the final season of legendary cast members Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg. Aside from the strong political material, the season excelled because of the consistency of the cast as it saw very little change from previous years.
Being familiar with the format and having years of experience, the cast of season 37 was able to deliver quality on a weekly basis. This also saw Kate McKinnon becoming the first openly gay female cast member, and the characters she brought with her turned out to be iconic. Maya Rudolph returned to deliver the best sketch of the season, “Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Laughs,” and of course there was the revival of “Bronx Beat ” and an appearance from Stefon.
6 Season 27 (2001 – 2002)
The early 2000s saw something of a revival for SNL as season 27 boasted an impressive lineup. As one of the SNL best seasons, audiences were entertained by the comedic stylings of Will Ferrell, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph, among others, leading to some of the show’s most iconic sketches. Much like Chris Farley with his time on the series, Will Ferrell tended to dominate.
“Patriotic Shorts” saw audiences rolling on the floor with laughter as Ferrell took Casual Friday to an extreme and showed off his “patriotic” underwear in an office boardroom. It was so funny that even the cast themselves could barely get through the sketch. “Lovers,” starring Rachel Dratch and Will Ferrell was another highlight of the season. The season also saw incredible celebrity guests, such as Ian McKellan, Winona Ryder, and Drew Barrymore.
5 Season 1 (1975-1976)
The debut season of SNL had its fair share of growing pains. It was attempting to introduce an entirely new comedy format to audiences and it did so with a cast of relative newcomers. However, it turned out to be one of the SNL best seasons. Many of the show’s most famous alumni such as Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, and Chevy Chase were on hand to help the fledgling show along, and help they certainly did.
Though it may look very different from the shows of recent memory, season 1 laid the groundwork that all seasons would emulate moving forward. Also, several of the hosts would become SNL legends and host the show a multitude of times. Episode 9 of the first season saw the series nominated and win its very first Emmy, proving that the show was off to a head start and that Lorne Michaels had comedy gold on his hands.
4 Season 32 (2006-2007)
By season 32, SNL had proven that it could keep up with changing forms of comedy and had stepped into the realm of internet humor with Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island sketches and songs dominating early internet culture. Aside from a cast of long-running players like Darrell Hammond and Fred Armisen, the show boasted a handful of up-and-coming talents that would define the show for the next decade, making season 32 one of the SNL best seasons.
As with the previous season, many of the highlights came from Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island comedy group. Together the group produced a handful of notoriously funny internet sketches that aired on the show as well. Season 32 contained the infamous “D**k in a Box” sketch that featured Samberg and notable host Justin Timberlake. “D**k in a Box” ended up winning an Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics, as well as a Writers Guild Award for Best Comedy/Variety series.
3 Season 2 (1976-1977)
Whatever issues season 1 struggled with, the show had fully worked out by the debut episode of the second. Resembling much of what SNL still looks like today, the second season garnered the show a much larger audience and introduced some of the show’s most famous sketches, such as the Coneheads, making this one of the SNL best seasons. Coneheads helped bring SNL into the Hollywood limelight, as it was so popular that the sketch spawned a film franchise.
SNL also proved its resilience during the season when debut cast member Chevy Chase departed the show suddenly and was later replaced by Bill Murray. By introducing the concept of fluidity within the cast, SNL prepared the audiences for all of the future cast changes to come. Aykroyd’s dubious toy manufacturer Irwin Mainway entertained audiences with the sketch “Consumer Probe,” and cast member Gilda Radner got her due when she won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program.
2 Season 14 (1988 – 1989)
Season 14 stands out as one of the SNL best seasons because it maintained solid laughs and ratings from start to finish. Adding cast members Mike Meyers and Ben Stiller proved to be a resounding success, as season 14 marks the first appearance of the iconic Meyers/Carvey sketch “Wayne’s World.” The sketch proved to be a hit among audiences, spawning two movies and plenty of memorable Wayne’s World catchphrases.
The late Phil Hartman was another strong presence on the series. His more subtle brand of comedy fit right in with the rest of the zany cast, coming up with hysterical characters like the Anal Retentive Chef and the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. “Toonces the Driving Cat” remains the zaniest and best sketch of the season. The season won Dana Carvey an American Comedy Award, and an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series.
1 Season 3 (1977-1978)
By season 3 of SNL, the original cast had solidified into a strong unit and the show had fully established its formula, making it one of the SNL best seasons. A majority of the original cast remained, and new addition Billy Murray had found his place in the roster with his own recurring sketch characters. With legendary hosts like Steve Martin making frequent appearances, the show was able to deliver week in and week out.
On top of that, notable alumnus Chevy Chase became the first returning cast member to host the show. The third season introduced the hilarious “Festrunk Brothers” sketch with Aykroyd and Martin, and it would go down as one of the funniest sketches of the 1970s. Other iconic Saturday Night Livecharacters introduced include the Blues Brothers, Steve Martin’s King Tut, Father Guido Sarducci, and Roseanne Roseannadanna. Season 3 was truly the best season of SNL and the series was officially in its prime.